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Exercise Your Brain In Midlife – Learn A New Language

Maria Olsen March 2023

Positive Aging Thought Leader: Maria Olsen

Studies show that learning new skills is good for brain health, as it forms and strengthens new neural pathways.

And thereby helps to stave off aging and dementia. What better skill to learn than how to communicate in another language?

“Europeans especially put us to shame with respect to languages, as most Europeans I have met are bilingual or trilingual.”

Learning Languages:

Many of the world’s inhabitants speak some English. Yet Americans are woefully deficient in learning languages other than English. Europeans especially put us to shame with respect to languages, as most Europeans I have met are bilingual or trilingual. To be fair, European countries are close together, so there is more ease in travel to other countries than Americans generally possess.

We in the U.S. generally are required to take a few years of a foreign language during our schooling, but foreign language use fails to carry over into practice once most people graduate. When traveling, I usually can find someone who can speak at least a few words of English. However, knowing a good deal of Spanish has come in handy, since there is some overlap between Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese. Even my mother’s native Tagalog language contains words that are of Spanish origin.

I currently am working as a digital nomad in South America for most of the winter. I am practicing my language skills in daily communications as I go about my life here. Moreover, I am supplementing my oral skills by using the Duolingo language app. It is free and fun, and gets progressively more challenging as one progresses in the lessons. There are many such apps online and most of them are free.

Language Skills:

Taking a structured language course is helpful for many people. Many language courses exist, both in person and online. In the United States, many community colleges will allow people over a certain age to take classes for free or at a discount. More than anything, practicing language skills is necessary for any real and sustained fluency.

I was delighted to learn about some language practice events where I am living in Buenos Aires this month. One is akin to a happy hour at a bar, at which people wear flag stickers indicating what languages they speak or wish to practice. Another was like speed dating. Half the people sat at one table for the entire event, while the other half rotated among the tables at regular intervals. Both events provided fun and valuable practice. I imagine that similar events exist around the world, at least in major cities.

“Multiple language speakers can be found in many areas.”

My lack of fluency has led to some hilarious incidents. I told one salesperson in Spanish that my friend wished to try on horses. I somehow confused the word “horse” for “hat.” The three of us had a laugh. More importantly, my mistakes do not deter me. I am grateful that most Spanish speakers are good-natured listeners when others attempt to speak their language.

Boost In Confidence:

At a Latin dance class, I thought I told the instructor that I was very hot after our practice. She informed me that I told her something else entirely that involved sexual desire! We laughed uproariously, but I doubt I will make that particular mistake again.

Not only is learning or practicing a new language good for one’s brain health, but it also can lead to a deeper understanding of other cultures, the ability to travel to more remote areas, and a boost in confidence. One need not travel to practice languages, of course. Multiple language speakers can be found in many areas. And multiple ways exist for learning languages.

Watching television shows or listening to radio broadcasts also provides language learning opportunities. TED Talks and podcasts in other languages are also readily accessible. With internet availability, the world is your oyster. Vamanos!

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Maria Olsen

About the Author:

Maria Leonard Olsen is an attorney, author, radio show and podcast host in the Washington, D.C., area. For more information about her work, see www.MariaLeonardOlsen.com and follow her on social media at @fiftyafter50. Her latest book, 50 After 50: Reframing the Next Chapter of Your Life, which has served as a vehicle for helping thousands of women reinvigorate their lives, is offered for sale on this website.

4 thoughts on “Exercise Your Brain In Midlife – Learn A New Language

  1. Tina Hudak says:

    I appreciate this article. SInce my retirement I have “boned” up on my Italian and tried to learn some Czech…. the last language is REALLY a challenge, but it is so fun. My experience has been that others appreciate you even TRYING to speak in their language. So, nothing is ever wasted even without fluency.

    • Kuel Membership logo large
      Kuel Life says:

      Agreed, Tina. For the most part I have found people very open and kind when they figure out that you are trying your level best. Nothing is wasted, for sure.

  2. Lisa King says:

    I took 7 years of French in school and my goal is to relearn it! This was going to be the year but 3 months in and I’ve made no headway. Thank you for the reminder here that this is important to me!

    • Kuel Membership logo large
      Kuel Life says:

      No time like right now to start learning it again. 7 years should give you a little muscle memory when you kickstart the French again. Maybe a trip to Paris is in order?

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